Atlas fought with the Titans against the Olympians. Both sides were above humanity. The humans were toys and “collateral damage” to the battle of the Gods. When the Titans lost, Atlas was punished by Zeus and forced to hold up the Sky so it could never join again with the Earth and return to the primordial Chaos. Atlas was a hero to the Titans. He was punished and endured. He is a symbol for keeping the world from Chaos, for unending endurance.
I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately and when they arise in society and why. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey follows the hero as he descends to the other world to receive his enlightenment and return transformed by his journey to the world. Campbell’s Hero must endure the descent to rise again.
In the American Monomyth as presented by Jewett and Lawrence (1977), they say:
A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity.
This superhero is what America has always wanted. We also are seeking an ordinary hero who endures protecting the world and is essentially a common man.
I have been pondering Biden and why he comes to America at this time, and I have two points.
The first is that Biden has experienced great joy and great grief. These two can make even the dullest man in times of adversity both hopeful and humble. The opposition may ridicule Biden for that but those two qualities in a leader are what attract us to him. We look for compassion and understanding as our friends and relatives die. This plague-ridden country wants a president who knows loss and how to get past it. After all, Biden’s son should be on the campaign trail not him. Biden is a person who has made it to the other side of loss and continues to get up every morning and do the job. He holds the image of a common man who knows grief and endurance, and yet, he continues to hold up the sky.
Biden has also known great joy. You can see in his face the rejoicing he felt every day in those four years as a vice president. Biden has hope. To live between grief and joy is humanity. America has Biden at this moment because we looked for a leader who fits the American Monomyth. Don’t we always?
The second point has to do with economics. When I was a young adult the rallying cry from the Democrats was equality. Now, I see that equality cannot be sustained without equity. Equity in this country has been diverted and concentrated by law and by society for more than two hundred years after the “created equal” declaration. Equity has been proscribed in-laws about who was a citizen, or who could own property, wield political power, control money, or who was considered property.
More recently, financial equity has been concentrated in the top five: Bezos, Gates, Buffett, Ellison, Zuckerberg. The stock market may fluctuate but we still have Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, and Facebook. Berkshire Hathaway (Buffet)is spread among GEICO, Duracell, Dairy Queen, BNSF, Lubrizol, Fruit of the Loom, and others. Following closely behind are the three Walmart heirs. Today equity is counted by the stocks in a portfolio. That’s why the stock market is still afloat, even with some dips. Equity is maintained by government tax breaks, contracts, bailouts, and trade negotiations. Owners of great equity then control other parts of our society, as in the past.
What if equity had to do with need? This is the core of the socialism label used by political pundits. Should the poor be beholden to the rich al la Dickens? Was Ayn Rand’s philosophy right? Are the poor just parasites on the rich, the “doers”? It is one of the central American conflicts - equality did not provide equity. No wonder it is not a popular notion to be, as my grandmother would say, beholding.. Who wants to say they are in need? The majority of COVID-19 sufferers are not wealthy white men. So, “approximately one in four COVID-19 deaths are among the non-Hispanic black population”, according to the CDC. The majority of those out of work are service workers, the others - people of color, women, youth, poor. Look at the statistics. Certainly, those who are receiving the benefits of America economically are not generally in such need. Who has the megaphone?
So given those two points - Biden’s fit with the particularly American mythology and the economic politics of equity, I see why Biden has risen to the national stage - a man of experience with both hope and humility. A man who speaks about needs and not profits. For the rest of the image - he is a white man of wealth; he does fit the mythos as a rough, individualistic American Cowboy, Marshall Dylan. But are the masses strong enough to vote for equity?
“We are living through a battle for the soul of America.” Biden 8.27.1917
I am skeptical about all politicians. As my father told me, if you shake a politician’s hand, be sure to count your fingers. I also remember history, especially when I was there. The echoes of the speeches from the Democratic candidates, and the Republican’s too, echo in the commercials and websites I see now on both sides. I think whatever the outcome of this larger election, the battle really lies at home. In our backyards, in our city councils, in our state legislatures, that is where we can look for those American ideals - rule of law, equal rights, freedom of expression, and that more equitable, more equal society.
I wish you health. I am still at home and mask-wearing outside.
Today’s statistics: Cases 2,410,978 Deaths 118,031 Total test Results Positive and Negative 29,207,820